E-mails home from Afghanistan

Corporal Jeff Jackson 04C, a philosophy major at Emory, enlisted in the army reserve his junior year at Emory, almost exactly one year after 9/11. He is now stationed at a small desert outpost in Afghanistan as a member of a tactical psychological operations (PSYOP) team.

Jackson has been keeping in contact with his family and friends through email since he arrived in Afghanistan in June 2005.

His father, Nathan Jackson of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, says the emails soon took on a life of their own, with friends forwarding them to more friends, until an extended network of people were reading Jackson's updates.

“Jeff was totally surprised by the number of replies he's gotten. [He] had no idea there'd be an audience beyond his close friends and immediate family. He even got a brief thank you from a retired colonel who had been in Special Forces in Vietnam and was glad to hear first-hand news from a fellow soldier. This bridged a generation gap, which I know meant something to Jeff.”

Several of Jackson's e-mails home can be seen below. You can contact him by clicking here.

June 29, 2005

Subject: Boots on ground

To All:

Today is my fourth day in Afghanistan, but I still haven't arrived at my final destination. Getting here has been a classic series of Army/Air Force foul ups. Our plane from Fort Bragg to Germany was delayed three times, twice after we had already spent half the day waiting at the airport. We arrived in Germany expecting a two-hour wait for the next flight to Bagram and ended up staying in Germany for three days. That actually turned out to be a great time. I spent an afternoon walking around downtown Klaustein in uniform, getting the most wicked stares and sampling all types of local beer with my buddies.

At one point we happened upon a little rock concert in an outdoor mall—it was an Aerosmith cover band. We belted out the words to all the songs while hundreds of Germans stared and secretly wished we would die.

We arrived at Bagram four nights ago in the middle of the night. The landing was unlike anything you've ever experienced in regular commercial flight. Suffice to say it was highly tactical, and some (not I) got sick.

Since we've arrived, different teams have been catching flights out to locations all over the country. My team was supposed to leave three days ago. Today we actually got pretty close. We sat on an airplane for three hours (between 1 and 4 a.m.) while they worked on a fuel line problem until they finally decided it couldn't be fixed and sent us all back to our circus tent. (Side note—on the plane with us was an all-female AC/DC cover band called Thund-Her-Struck. Apparently they travel war zones playing for the troops. Yes, I got autographs.)

Now they tell us we're leaving “very soon.” The final destination is a small outpost in the mountains. I'm proud to say I can't tell you where it is. Supposedly once my three-man team gets there, the population of our post will still be less than thirty. And supposedly, our main job will be to hunt al Queda. This is a highly unusual mission for psyop, but it comes with being attached to special forces.   I have no idea what living conditions will be like, or when I'll get Internet access again, so this might be it for a while.

My team and I are still really excited, if a little frustrated by all the delays. Today I sat in the Patrick Tillman (the pro-football player who joined the rangers and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan) Soldier Center for half the day because it's the only nearby building with air conditioning (108 degrees today).

While I was there, I struck up a conversation with three local boys the base has hired to clean up around the soldier center. The base is loaded with American contractors and they often rely on locals for manpower—it's considered good psyop and good for the local economy.

Two of the boys were thirteen and one was twelve; [among] them they spoke eight languages, with the twelve-year-old being fluent or near fluent in at least six. This kid spoke Pashtun, Dari, Russian, English (almost perfectly), Spanish (of all things), and Hindu. He could also get by in Pakistani. It was unreal. Then he asked me how the Terminator “became in charge of California.”

We talked for two hours, asking each other questions about our cultures. I tried to make it very clear to all three of them that they needed to get to America as soon as possible where they would be rich beyond their wildest dreams simply for being able to speak the languages they already know. This excited them a great deal, and I repeated it over and over so they knew I wasn't joking.

So things are going well. Write back if you get a chance. It's nice to hear what everyone is up to.



July 14, 2005

Subject: Divine Intervention

Dear Friends and Family,

I have all these great pictures from stuff we've been doing and I've been waiting to send them, but yesterday I had an experience that trumped everything else to date.

And the best part is, I've got pictures of the whole thing. You'll want to read the story first.

We were in a convoy, headed to a town to meet with police officials and schoolteachers. Because we were short one teammate (Dave was in Bagram on a re-supply mission), the vehicle stations were changed around. Jim, my team chief, was driving. I was in the turret, on the .50 cal. Our interpreter, Akmad, was in the backseat. Since I'm not normally the guy in the turret, I brought my digital camera to snap some pictures of the scenery.

About halfway there, we came to a narrow bridge that rose about five feet above a little creek. Jim, for reasons that would stupefy an otter, chose to punch the accelerator at the foot of the bridge. Unfortunately, our rapid ascent prevented him from seeing, before it was too late, that he was steering us too far to the right. From the turret, I could see what was about to happen, but we were moving too fast for me to do anything other than yell, . . . as our vehicle careened off the bridge, slammed into the side of the embankment, and rolled onto its right side. I didn't have time to duck into the vehicle, but this turned out to be a good thing. When we hit the embankment, my torso slammed into the edge of the turret, but the body armor absorbed the blow. Had I managed to duck inside the vehicle, I would have been crushed between the door and hundreds of pounds of .50 cal ammo that we keep in the center console. As it happened, my face smashed into the handle of the .50, but all I got from that was a scrape on the chin. When the vehicle landed in the creek, it was still rolling. If the .50 and the loudspeaker hadn't been attached to the turret, it would have rolled completely over, snapping me like a toothpick and burying my upper half in the mud beneath a five-ton vehicle. Luckily, the .50 dug into the creek bed and the loudspeaker mount was just strong enough to break the vehicle's momentum and stop the roll. They always told us in psyop school that our loudspeaker would save our lives. I'm living proof.

The first thing I thought was, “I'm okay—they must be okay.” And they were. By the time the vehicle came to a complete stop, I was inside. I've replayed it a hundred times in my head, but I still can't remember how that happened. When everything stopped moving, Jim was the first to speak: “Jeff! You okay?” I told him I was fine and then asked Akmad if he was hurt. In a thick Pashtun accent, he said, “I am not hurt, but I quit this job.” (Akmad has since been convinced not to quit—“Jeff, you drive from now on, okay?”) By this point the convoy had stopped and everyone had run to our vehicle to help pull us out. Before I was out I could hear the captain's voice asking, “Who was in the turret? Who was in the turret?” Jim crawled out through the turret, then Akmad, then me. As soon as I got out they had the medic look me over. Other than the scratch on my chin and a gash on my shin, I was fine. We were all a little sore, but not even a bruise between the three of us.

For the next six hours we worked to extract our vehicle from the creek. Twenty locals and the village elder showed up, loaned us a tractor and a truck, and proceeded to demolish their own bridge so that we could up-end our vehicle. After the adrenaline wore off, I starting making friends with the locals, passing out psyop products and letting them take pictures of each other with my digital camera. By the end of the ordeal, I had passed out toothbrushes and soccer balls to all the kids and taught everyone to greet Americans with a special handshake and a strong, “Right on, brother!” Just as we were leaving, the village elder invited all of us to lunch. The food was, well, authentic. Can't say I ate much of it, but we had a good time.

And that was yesterday. Our vehicle, much to everyone's amazement, still runs. Pretty dinged up, but “fully mission capable,” as we proudly reported. In writing   yesterday's situation report, my team chief and I had a fun time selecting the appropriate words to downplay the rollover and emphasize the impromptu psyop (“The vehicle then slid to the right and was laid on its side. . . . The local townspeople, under the coordination of the village elder, helped us put the truck back on the road and then invited us for lunch . . .”)

I thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers. It could have been a much worse day, but someone was looking out for us. Now that I've had my bad luck for the month, I think I'll start using the dirt bike on missions. Never seen a dirt bike roll off a bridge.

All the best,


July 25, 2005

Dear Friends and Family,

First, let me say that I had no idea so many people were going to be interested in my updates, but I think it's wonderful and I have enjoyed all the positive responses, questions, and kind words. Some have asked for permission to forward to others—none is needed. Forward away.

Enough has transpired to warrant another update. However, Dad tells me I should give a more general description of my camp and its surroundings, including preliminary thoughts on the progress we're making in our region, so I'll start with that.

I am stationed in what can fairly be described as an extremely remote desert outpost in southeastern Afghanistan, occupied exclusively by Special Operations for the purpose of conducting, well, special operations. It is a very, very small compound. We supplement our security by employing local militiaman to go on missions with us and we have a number of newly recruited Afghan National Army regulars stationed around our perimeter.

We live near a river, as one must in a country without infrastructure. The poverty of the region is astounding. There is no electricity, no running water, and almost none of the simplest agricultural technology. I've seen a few tractors, but mostly just donkeys pulling wooden plows. All homes are mud huts. Most children are barefoot; some are obviously emaciated. They clamor and fight for the empty water bottles we give them and I accidentally started a full riot with a soccer ball (I've subsequently developed a better method of soccer-ball-dissemination). There are no paved roads and few vehicles. Most travel and transport goods via donkey. And yet, the people are happy. Not exuberant and gushing, but quick to laugh, wave, and smile. When I get a group of them together I tell my interpreter to tell them that I am going to teach them a “good American greeting.” Then I lock hands and give them a strong, “Right on, brother.” Then I make them repeat it back to me until they say it properly and loud enough so all their friends can hear. Without exception, hysterics ensue. The other day I actually had a village elder—a 93-year-old miracle of self-preservation—booming “RIGHT ON, BROTHER!” It was beautiful. I gave him a solar-powered radio.

It's probably too early to tell how the battle for hearts and minds is going, but the complete lack of civil infrastructure makes it very difficult for our three-man team to cover the region. We can meet people and disseminate product all day long and we'll still only make a small dent in general sentiment. It is fortunate, therefore, that the general sentiment appears to already be on our side. (I've only been spit at a few times.)

I want to keep these updates as short as possible, so I'll do the rest in bullet points.

Last week our base came under rocket attack for the first time in over a year. It happened in the middle of the night while I was on guard, so I ran back into the compound and hit the general alarm. We sat in our defensive positions for an hour and watched as rockets were fired toward us. None of them landed inside the compound, although some got close enough to make me jump.

While leaving a town a couple days ago, our convoy came to a halt. We sat in our Humvee and dripped sweat for a few minutes, then the radio crackled: “We're gonna have to get out. We found something on top of the mosque.” We surrounded the building with our vehicles and pulled security while a team entered the mosque—normally off-limits to coalition forces—and made its way to the roof, where it found Chinese artillery shells, British anti-tank landmines, Soviet rocket-propelled grenades, and American mortars. Someone was preparing for our next visit with a one-stop IED shop. No one was surprised when the cleric claimed ignorance. The cache was confiscated and we drove home, careful to stay off the road as much as possible. After dinner we watched from a distance as our demolition guy detonates the explosives we found. Standing almost a mile away, the shock wave still pushed me back on my heels.

Yesterday I needed a hinge to fix our door. I haven't been here long enough to do much construction, so this was my first time in the tool shed. I walked to the cluttered workbench and start poking around. I lifted a newspaper and revealed an unexploded anti-tank mine, just sitting there, looking like something you might find in Home Depot, shelved between garden hoses and sprinklers. Never in my life did I think the phrase “anti-tank mine” would assume such personal significance. If one of us gets killed out here, odds are it'll be this bugger that does it. Even in an up-armored Humvee, your only chance is to be thrown from the vehicle—this is why we drive with the doors off. In the last year, five vehicles from our tiny firebase have been destroyed by these damn things. (That's about 1 in 8.) When I ask Larry, our construction guy, about the unexploded landmine I just found on his workbench, he tells me that's where he keeps them until we detonate them. Then, for the first time in my life, I learn something I wish I hadn't: “Yeah, I find about one a week.” One per week? Seriously? “Yeah—I'm out on my four-wheeler scouting for these things so we get 'em before they get us. Look for freshly dug dirt.” But aren't some of them remote detonated? “Yeah. Occupational hazard. Gotta go sometime.” Leave it to Larry to be cavalier about the prospect of death by landmine.

I had my first actual vehicle chase the other day. Coming back from a mission we saw two guys on motorcycles with guns. We chased them for an hour and they led us back to a compound, which we promptly raided. We turned up a small weapons cache. Those two got away, but another guy who was wearing a grenade vest was detained.

As I write, two of our Special Forces teams are in the tenth hour of a firefight that began at dawn. I was talking to Dad on the phone and suddenly I heard machine gun fire over the radio. That was my cue to hang up.

This is kind of an interesting situation for a philosophy major to find himself. I'm holding my own, but I have to run to keep up with these guys. They've been training for this and doing this for years, so they've got a big head start, but I'll close the gap. There's a great spirit of community and everyone looks out for each other—and we're all extremely well armed. I can't get over the fact that our psyop team may literally be the best-armed reservist team in the history of warfare—I honestly can't imagine what weapons system we could realistically have that we don't.

And that's the news from southwest Asia.

Hope everyone is doing great,


Aug. 15, 2005

Subject: Afghanispam 2—Return of the Taliban

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday I promised myself that today I would write another update, even though nothing really interesting had happened. Not five hours after I made that decision, something really interesting happened.

Our generator has been broken for the last few days, forcing most of us to sleep on the roof for lack of air conditioner. It hasn't been that bad. You can see the Milky Way perfectly and there's a cool breeze all night long. The sand flies bite and the sun wake you up at 4:30, but it's actually been a decent alternative. And just last night I told someone in an email that I really didn't mind sleeping on the roof, except for the fact that if we came under attack it would be a rude awakening. And thus fate was tempted.

I woke to the sound of a distant pop, then a few more, then it was obviously machine gun fire. I sat up and saw orange tracer rounds being fired toward us, but from too far away to reach the camp.   You could watch the rounds being fired, flying toward the camp, then dipping down and hitting dirt.   For the first thirty seconds, it was more like a neat light show than an attack.

Then we heard a loud whistle.   The first rocket landed about two hundred feet away, just outside the compound. By the time we got down the ladder and into our hut, we heard the second whistle, much louder this time. We all hit the floor and the explosion shook the building. (This morning we found a crater fifty feet from our hut.) We got to our feet, put on our helmets and body armor, then got in our Humvee and drove to our position along the base perimeter and started looking for something to shoot. I was dressed in the height of special ops fashion: running shoes, basketball shorts, a bulletproof vest, and a helmet. In the commotion I forgot about my shirt.

Dave and I sat in the truck, manning machine guns, while rounds continued impacting inside the camp. One came close enough to spray our vehicle with rocks. We cheered as our mortar guy—a man named Heiko who everyone agrees is invincible—returned fire.

Within 20 minutes an AC-130 gunship was circling overhead. With our night vision goggles we could see the IR spotlight it shone down and we listened over the radio as the pilot announced he had spotted a small group of men low-crawling away. Their remains were retrieved early this morning. They were all still wearing their black Taliban shawl.

Last month's rocket attack was pitiful; none of the rockets even landed inside the camp. It was token terrorism; a real poor showing by the local Taliban. This one was much more accurate. In training they teach us that if you hear a whistle, you're dead. Last night I heard three whistles. Everyone seems kind of amazed that no one on the camp was hurt and no equipment was destroyed.

The moral of the story is this: our base came under relatively heavy attack last night and we were taken completely by surprise. Moreover, most of us were sleeping on the damn roof when the first round of rockets impacted. And yet, the bad guys got an uncontested ass whoop. I don't know whether to thank the equipment, the training, or God, but I'm playing it safe and thanking all three.

Attached are some pictures that are decidedly more upbeat. Recently I've taken to breaking out my iPod along with the digital camera and giving Afghan kids their first taste of American music.

We're gearing up for the election, which will take place September 18th. The general feeling is that it'll probably go pretty well. Everyone seems to know about it and they all say they plan on voting. And every once in a while I take an adult aside and have my interpreter ask him where Osama is. When they say they don't know, I try to explain how much 25 million dollars can buy. I have yet to find an effective way to do this.

I hope everyone is doing well. I can't tell you how much I appreciate everyone's emails.   I'm sorry if it takes me a while to respond to everyone personally but free time and Internet time are pretty limited. I will do my best, however, to get back to everyone within a few weeks.

All the best,


Sept. 1, 2005

Subject: Mobile Mullahs and Inflatable Sheep

Dear Friends and Family,

Thanks to everyone who has dropped me a line. The email is great and no permission is needed to forward anything I write. Just try and avoid the major news outlets — no need to clue them in on what's really going on.

Once again, interesting events and photographs have reached critical mass. We've had two recent missions. The second mission was the more interesting, so I'll dispense with the first mission quickly.

During the first mission, our psyop team handed out stickers, water bottles, and little silk Afghan flags to kids. I love those kinds of missions because they're direct and immediately helpful—and the kids go berserk when we start handing stuff out. On this mission we had plenty of time to hang out and have fun with the kids after we finished passing stuff out.

The second mission was of a slightly different nature. Basically, we had some intelligence on the location of a large number of Taliban, so we geared up and were inserted by helicopter to conduct a raid. It was a very small village and we quickly learned that any Taliban who had been there had since left. Supposedly we missed them by a day or two.

Our commander decided to stay until morning so we could do a madcap—free medical treatment for anyone in the village. We needed food and supplies, so another helicopter was tasked to deliver them. About 10 miles away from our position, the helicopter was shot down, possibly by the same Taliban we had just missed. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt and the helicopter was able to take off again after making some repairs.

That left the matter of finding food. An enterprising buddy took the initiative and bought a sheep off one of the villagers, who kindly agreed to prepare and cook it for us (we probably paid more than market value). I don't know if any of you have ever seen or participated in sheep preparation, but it blew my mind. The throat was cut and the sheep was given a few minutes to bleed out—standard stuff. But then the sheep was upturned, a small cut was made at the bottom of one of the legs, and a stick was inserted all the way up the leg and into the chest cavity. At this point I had no idea what was happening. It was not until the farmer put his mouth on the cut and started blowing that I figured it out. The damn sheep inflated! I kid you not. The sheep actually puffed out. Perhaps everyone else had a class on this, but I missed it. I guess the idea was to make it easier to cut the skin from the meat. Don't believe me? Try it yourself sometime.

That night we slept on the side of a mountain. Only a few of us had sleeping bags and the temperature dropped to 48. Somehow, 48 degrees at 9,000 feet feels 10 degrees colder. It was, without a doubt, the most miserably cold night of my life. I lay in a ditch to block the wind, wore my helmet so my head wasn't lying on gravel, and had a buddy drape my body armor over my legs. Not surprisingly, I didn't sleep a solid minute. A couple times an hour I would ask my teammate Dave what time it was, waiting for 4:30 to arrive. I would have paid $500 for a blanket.

That morning, during the medcap, I met a man named John Mohammed, or JMo, as he is affectionately known. JMo is our province's warlord-turned-governor, making him a little of both. I had been waiting for a chance to meet him, so when he was pointed out to me I took my “terp” [interpreter] and introduced myself. He gave me a big hug and insisted we sit and chat. He started by telling me how he hates the Taliban (a questionable claim) and how he is committed to eradicating poppy in his province (an outright lie). I assured him that America would not leave until the Taliban were completely destroyed, trying to do my part to win his loyalty. I got the standard song of praise for U.S. involvement. Then I decided to switch gears. I told him that in American history classrooms, they teach us that Afghanistan's victory over the Soviet Union was the beginning of the end for their empire. At this he smiled broadly and launched into stories about digging traps for Soviet tanks and how he once shot down 13 Soviet helicopters in one day with weapons supplied by the U.S. We then slipped back into Taliban talk. He complained that most Taliban are coming over from Pakistan, and that the U.S. should realize Pakistan is not its ally in the war. He implied that American forces would be wise to make Pakistan their next stop. I said, “Well, George Bush likes going to war, so maybe Pakistan will be next.” Taking my joke seriously, JMo raised his arms into the air and bellowed, “If America went to war with Pakistan, all of Afghanistan would rise up and join the fight!” I considered that ending on a high note. He was delighted to pose for a picture.

In addition to JMo, we brought another high-profile provincial figure, a religious man (mullah) who occasionally comes on missions with us and says the types of things American psyop can't say: Allah wants you to fight the Taliban, Allah wants you to stop growing poppy, etc. Due to his willingness to take helicopter flights all over the region to preach the good anti-insurgency word, we call him the Mobile Mullah. During the medcap, he gave a two-hour sermon to everyone waiting in line on why they should band together and fight the Taliban the next time they sweep through (we were serving two small villages, less than 100 people each, but apparently they hate each other and refuse to come together to provide a common defense). The reaction he got was remarkable. First, his audience sat in rapt attention for two straight hours. Then, after he finished, they all kissed his hand and pledged to fight the Taliban. Of course, the pledge is dubious, but they sure sounded emphatic.

Now, back at our firebase, we're performing “recovery ops”—also known as taking showers and playing video games. I have no idea what's planned for the next few weeks, but the elections are on the 18th so I assume we'll be busy. Hopefully you won't hear anything about Afghanistan in the news until that day. And if the elections go off without a hitch, hey, you know the guy who made it happen.

I hope all is well with everyone back home. All in all, things are going pretty well here. Like the man says: “Freedom—it's on the march. Terror—it's on the run.”

Or something.

All the best,


Nov. 5, 2005

Subject: November has been breached

Dear Friends and Family,

It's been a month, and there's plenty to report.

As most of you have probably heard, there was an incident involving an infantry squad, a psyop team, and the immolation of two Taliban corpses. Inexplicably, this remarkable lapse of reason occurred in front of a news crew, which caught the whole thing on tape.   No one knows what's going to happen to those directly involved, but all psyop in Afghanistan has been indefinitely stood down while the powers that be determine how to ensure something like this “never happens again.” That's the big phrase right now. And our infantry buddies here have seized every opportunity to remind us that we're pariahs.   The jokes about our not being allowed to have lighters have become insufferable.

Despite being stood down, life is still interesting.   My third teammate arrived last week, a 19-year-old we call “Silent Crazy” for his homicidal reticence. His real name is Corporal Holland, and every night he carefully lays his shampoo in the middle of his towel, folds it into eighths, cuts three lengths of green army cord, ties two around each end of the towel and one connecting the two, so as to create a makeshift towel-bag, then tosses it over his shoulder and walks to the shower, one hundred feet away. It's such a flagrant violation of basic economics that it upsets me just watching it. Lord knows I've tried talking him out of it, but I can't.

Being stood down doesn't mean we can't run missions—it just means we can't run psyop missions. Skirting the line a little further, we can use the three Afghan soldiers we trained to do basic psyop (our Afghan Information Dissemination Operation team) to pick up the slack and actually start doing the job we trained them to do.

A few days ago our convoy stopped in the local bazaar and we got out to do some shopping. The idea was to support the local economy and get some mementos for the ladies back home. It was a disaster. No one found much worth buying—if you don't like grain, livestock, or cigarettes you were pretty much out of luck—and the locals didn't want us there. A kid spit on me; another sailed a rock right over my head. The whole time we were there we were dodging rocks. Come to learn, there was a stoning earlier that day, so I guess they were in the mood.

Ramadan ended three days ago. It's a month of fasting that culminates in Eid Al-fatir, which is three days of rowdiness and general unrest. The last day of Eid, which was today, is the one day a year women get to leave the house. Still, on our mission today, we didn't see any groups of men and women mingling together. What we saw was a downtown that was overflowing with men and boys and then, as we got further out into the country, we could see long lines of blue burkas in the distance. Our interpreters told us the women have a common meeting place miles away from the city where they sing and dance, well away from prying eyes. She also told me that one month's salary from an American soldier would be more than enough to buy a wife.

The last three nights have been filled with celebratory gunfire, in lieu of fireworks, I suppose. I've made some phone calls at night while watching tracer rounds fly over our camp. Predictably, each morning men who were hit by descending rounds come to the base for medical treatment. One 10-year-old boy became impatient with our doctor, waited until he turned his back for a minute, and then tried to take a bullet out of his thigh with his fingers. I gave him a solar-powered radio.

There's more to tell, but I like keeping these short. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

Thanks to Aunt Lil, Martha Hoffman, The Kyle Homestead, Pat Riley, and George Gehringer for sending care packages for the local kids. The next time we visit a school it's going to be the greatest day of their lives.

Hope everyone is doing well.


Nov. 28, 2005

Subject: Up and Running, Again

Dear Friends and Family,

After spending a few days at an airbase in Kandahar receiving “cultural sensitivity briefings,” my platoon and my team have been sent back out to our firebases to resume our psyop work. Since we've been back, our operation tempo has been consistently high; we've been clocking a mission per day, sometimes more. Time has been flying. Hard to believe November is almost gone.

The best thing about running missions here is the amount of support we get from the infantry. Small attachment teams like psyop can have a hard time convincing the “maneuver element” to integrate them into mission planning. But at our base, it's been a breeze. Once a week, I squat in front of a gigantic wall map of the region and find three or four unvisited villages. I jot down their names and grid coordinates, then I hand the sheet to the executive officer who plans the mission schedule. The next day the schedule is published and there are my missions, almost as if I were someone important.

When we get to the village, we tell the convoy where to stop and they determine how best to secure the area. Once the area is secure, we get out and get to it. Sometimes we'll be in one village for three or four hours, talking to village elders and mullahs (priests), handing out Peace Papers and radios, maybe drinking tea and taking a tour of the village. The infantry never complains. Whenever I assure them that we won't be in a certain village very long, I always get the same response: “Take all the time you need. We just like being outside the wire.” You couldn't hope for better support, and it's this type of support that allows us to get outside the wire and do our mission. So here's to the Texas National Guard infantry. You've never met a more professional group of tobacco-chewing grunts.   (Sometimes I marvel at the fact that I have a degree of control over an entire infantry platoon. If only I could go back in time and tell this to my eight-year-old self, I'd make my eight-year-old day.)

Winter is here. You can see snow on the mountains that surround our camp. Our room has a heater that enthusiastically blinks a crescendo of red bars that supposedly indicates a rising temperature. Unfortunately, this is the only such indication. Requests for a new heater have been duly noted by our superiors, much as my childhood requests for dessert-before-dinner were duly noted by my parents. In the event that we receive a new heater this will be good news for the Chicago Cubs, as they will have won the World Series.

In a few of the attached photos you'll see some toys being handed out to children. This is my way of thanking everyone who has sent something for these kids who have never seen a Frisbee, let alone a Beanie Baby. Consider it a global Toys-for-Tots program.

Thanks again for all of your gifts and kind words.

Take care,

Corporal Jackson (newly promoted)



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